Quebec’s disgraceful ‘Values Charter’

Last week, a Quebec government spokesperson revealed that the Canadian province’s premier, Pauline Marois, received emergency treatment in September at Montreal’s Sir Mortimer Davis Jewish General Hospital.

QUEBEC PREMIER Pauline Marois 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
QUEBEC PREMIER Pauline Marois 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week, a Quebec government spokesperson revealed that the Canadian province’s premier, Pauline Marois, received emergency treatment in September at Montreal’s Sir Mortimer Davis Jewish General Hospital.
More commonly referred to by locals simply as “The Jewish,” the hospital was established in 1934, primarily by Jews, at a time when it was difficult for members of the Jewish community to pursue careers in medicine due to the enforcement of quotas at various universities limiting their enrollment numbers and opportunities thereafter. Nevertheless, the hospital has always been open to service all patients regardless of religion, race or ethnic background.
Today, it remains Quebec’s most diverse hospital.
It is therefore strikingly ironic – and patently hypocritical – that Marois sought treatment at the hospital, given her status as the leader of the Parti Quebecois, which currently forms the provincial minority government and which recently announced it would be advancing legislation – the “Charter of Quebec Values” – which, if passed, would ban all public sector employees from wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols at work, including kippas, hijabs, turbans, “large” crosses, etc.
As part of the Quebec Medicare system, the Jewish General Hospital would be required to abide by any such mandate.
Yet it is nearly certain that at least one of the doctors who treated Marois – perhaps even saved her life – wore what she and her party apparently deem unacceptable workplace garb.
The Quebec government’s proposed Charter of Quebec Values is part and parcel of an increasingly rampant, worldwide movement – especially and tragically so in Europe, where the enactment of legislation restricting Jewish freedoms preceded the community’s mass extermination on the continent mere decades ago – to ban male circumcision as well as the ritual slaughter of animals; both common Jewish and, for that matter, Islamic religious practices.
Canada’s federal government – led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper – has rightfully vowed to review the constitutionality of any such law (were it ever to come into effect), with Multiculturalism Minister Jason Kenney recently asserting that, “If it’s determined that a prospective law violates the constitutional protections to freedom of religion to which all Canadians are entitled, we will defend those rights vigorously.”
Still, the gravity of the situation calls for the immediate implementation of assertive peremptory measures.
Just as Israel called last week on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to annul a resolution against circumcision, the government should likewise instruct its emissaries to Quebec to openly denounce the plan, as well as lobby members of the Quebec National Assembly to defeat the initiative. (As the Parti Quebecois leads a minority government, it would need the support of parliamentarians from other parties to pass the Charter.) This sort of campaign should generally be spearheaded by the organized Canadian Jewish community; however, to date, there has been scant, if any, public condemnation of the proposal on its part.
For example, The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations system in Canada, responded to the announcement by releasing a tepid statement merely pointing out the obvious, namely that “The proposed Charter of Quebec Values... is at odds with the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The proposed Charter undermines the very sense of unity within Quebec society that it claims to uphold.”
Nowhere in CIJA’s three-paragraph statement is there any explicit denunciation of the proposal, nor is any attention paid to how it will infringe specifically on the province’s Jewish population (on whose behalf CIJA is supposed to be advocating).
Nor does the Center address the fact that the intended legislation also aims to revise Quebec’s human rights act in order to negate the highlighted contradiction at the provincial level.
The Center also made the peculiar choice of issuing a joint statement, in conjunction with the Civic Education Society – located about 3,500 kilometers away from Quebec in the province of British Columbia – whose mandate is to create “A World of Multicultural Harmony.”
To its credit, CIJA commendably encouraged Quebec Jewry to participate in large numbers in a recently held demonstration against the proposed Charter, presumably so that the community’s “voice” could be heard.
Unfortunately, the rally was organized by the Rassemblement des citoyens et citoyennes engagé(e)s pour un Québec ouvert (The Assembly of Citizens [both masculine and feminine] for an Open Quebec), another multicultural entity.
The Jewish community’s message was thus no doubt largely drowned out amid the sea of “humanity.”
However, it is imperative to emphasize the Judeo-centric nature of this critical issue given that Quebec society is, in large part, notoriously anti-Israel, often a mask for flat-out anti-Semitism.
THE OVERT anti-Israelism of many prominent Quebecois figures is shocking. The most notable of these Israel-haters is Amir Khadir, a member of the provincial government best known for spearheading a boycott of a Montreal-based shoe store, called Le Marcheur, because two percent of the boutique’s inventory comprised Israeli-made apparel.
For 18 months, the store’s courageous owner, Mr. Yves Archambault, a native francophone with no previous ties to the Jewish community or to Israel, refused to yield in the face of malicious weekly demonstrations outside his shop, which decimated his bottom line. All the while, and despite his disgusting involvement in the hate campaign, opinion polls consistently found Khadir to be Quebec’s most popular politician.
There is also a seemingly endless pool of anti-Israel media personalities in Quebec, inarguably led by Stephane Gendron, who, when not bashing the Jewish state on radio or television, doubles as mayor of Huntingdon, a small town located 75 kilometers from Montreal. Among other things, Gendron has described Israel, on his French-language talk show, as an apartheid regime that does not deserve to exist, and Israelis as modern-day Nazis.
Over the past year, two other high-profile French-language radio hosts have come under intense fire for their anti- Israel/Jewish statements.
First, Benoit Dutrizac breached the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council’s code of ethics when he called on listeners to honk their horns while passing through a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Montreal on Rosh Hashanah to protest a bylaw against noisy outdoor activity on the High Holy Days. Dutrizac said the spiteful act was necessary to send a message to the Jews that they would not be permitted to dictate how Quebecers live in their “own” society.
Two months later, Jacques Fabi was widely condemned for failing to confront an Arab caller into his show who compared Israelis to dogs and hailed the Holocaust as the most beautiful event in history.
Fabi eventually piped up – explaining that he found the behavior of Montreal’s Jewish community “annoying.”
With this kind of venom being spewed across Quebec’s airwaves, it is not surprising that polls show that support for the “Quebec Charter of Values” is growing among the public.
In a recent survey conducted by SOM, one of the largest polling firms in Quebec, 66 percent of respondents said they approved of the initiative, a figure which peaked at 71% among native francophones, who comprise 80% of the province’s population. (It is worthwhile noting that CIJA’s website wrongly contends, perhaps inadvertently, that “an increasing number of Quebecers firmly oppose the unreasonable measures set forth by the [provincial] government”).
It is impossible to contextualize the Quebec government’s initiative without briefly examining another of the province’s controversial laws, the “Charter of the French Language,” arguably the most xenophobic, insular and “provincial” legislation in the Western world.
Commonly referred to as Bill 101, the law, among other restrictions, bans the display of uniquely English-language signs throughout the province, as well as bilingual signs in which the English (or any language other than French) font is more than one-third the size of its mandatory French counterpart. (Imagine, for a moment, the uproar that would ensue if ever Israel were to adopt similar conditions on the use of Arabic.) TODAY, THE Office québécois de la langue française (The Quebec Office of the French Language) – also known to the province’s Anglophones as the “language police” or “tongue troopers” – is tasked with enforcing the law, with a taxpayer-derived budget of tens of millions of dollars. This entity is so extremely dedicated to its work that every few years some absurd incident garners it global media attention.
This past February, Montreal’s wellknown Buonanotte restaurant made worldwide headlines after the tongue troopers found it in violation of Bill 101; its menu contained words such as “pasta,” “pesce,” “antipasti” and “calamari.” The restaurant was even cited for including Italian words on the menu for which there are no French equivalents.
Amid this political and social environment, Quebec’s Jewish population has decreased by 25% – from over 120,000 to roughly 90,000 – since the Quebec nationalist/separatist movement rose to prominence in the mid-1970s. And if the “Charter of Quebec Values” is allowed to pass, it is not unreasonable to expect a second mass exodus of Jews from the province.
The Quebec government cannot be allowed to add to its anti-democratic and intolerant resume by banning forms of religious expression as it previously did with linguistic freedom. It is our duty as Jews to vehemently condemn, and fight tooth and nail against, the proposed legislation in order to preserve not only the broad rights of Quebec’s many minority groups, but also our specific heritage and customs as well.
The writer made aliya from Montreal last year.
He works as a correspondent for i24 News, a recently launched international news network that broadcasts out of Israel.